The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Florida and affordability rarely go together during the winter months, when demand for warm weather and sunny beaches is at its highest. However, United Vacations is going against the grain by offering several incentives that put the Sunshine State back on the budget map.
Here's how it works. Book a five-night package that includes airfare through United Vacations' website by February 28 for travel through March 31. When you enter the promo code WARM, you will instantly receive $100 off, plus extra nights at your hotel for "free" and no charge for children.
So, does this deal really offer savings?
I priced a package from New York to Orlando, with five nights at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge in January with both United Vacations and Expedia. United's five-night cost for two was $1,777, whereas with Expedia it came to $2,467. The $100 off helped, but it still would have already been a drastic overall savings. The deal only gets better when you factor in extra free nights and savings for those traveling with children.
Question of the Week
Meri writes, "We have our 10-year wedding anniversary in June 2009. We just had our second child and need to spend some time alone together. We would love a mix of adventure travel and 'relaxation time.' We are pretty savvy travelers and don't need everything lined up in a package, but we also don't have a ton of 'planning time.' Money is tight. We are budgeting about $2,000 total for the two of us. Any ideas for us for 2009?"
Since you are on a limited budget for two people, I've decided to focus on destinations and activities within the United States. This ought to cut down on your airfare costs and allow you to spend the bulk of your travel budget at your destination.
My first suggestion is a Napa Valley Bike Tour, which is an ideal way to enjoy the great outdoors while getting in touch with your romantic side. You can choose from several different tours, including one-day excursions such as the Cycling in the Vineyard tour (all-day bike rental, gourmet picnic, and off-roading in a vineyard for $149 per person) or the Red Wine and Dine tour (all-day bike rental, gourmet picnic, and stops at three to four vineyards for $139 per person). Use the remainder of your budget for more day trips in and around Napa, with as much or as little relaxation time built in as you'd like. The Napa Valley area offers a range of affordable accommodations, such as the Napa Inn, where rooms start at $120 per night.
The next option is a bit more adventurous, but you can find time to rest before or after you spend three days backpacking in Glacier National Park. The trip costs $435 per person, and includes a guided hike through the park's backcountry. You will get to experience all that nature has to offer as you sleep under the stars, hike three to four miles a day, and carry all of your belongings on your back. After your trek, you can unwind in one of the many lodges or chalets located outside the park starting around $75 per night. If you'd rather skip the tour, there are plenty of other options to keep you busy.
If you like the idea of Napa, but also want to combine it with the splendor of a national park, Acadia might be just what you're looking for (minus the vineyards). Located just a few minutes from Bar Harbor, Maine, the park offers hiking along rocky shores, biking through 27 miles of carriage roads, or nature tours led by rangers. Since most of these activities are free, you can spend your money shopping and eating in Bar Harbor, where you'll find plenty of unique stores and charming restaurants. You can choose to save even more by camping in the park, but if you want to pamper yourself, there are a range of affordable B&Bs or cabins starting at just $55 per night in town.
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